123. A fresh subject is now broached. In order to appreciate it fully, the
following should be clearly borne in mind:
(1) After Noah, Abraham was the first Prophet appointed by God to spread the universal message of Islam. At the outset, he journeyed for many years from Iraq to Egypt, and from Syria and Palestine to various parts of Arabia inviting people to serve and obey God. Later he appointed deputies in various regions to carry on his mission. He sent his nephew Lot to Transjordan, his son Isaac to Syria and Palestine, and his eldest son Ishmael to Arabia. Then he built, in Makka, the shrine called the Ka'bah which subsequently, and under God's own command, was made the centre of the prophetic mission.
(2) Abraham's progeny descended in two main branches. One of these, the Children of Ishmael, lived in Arabia. The Quraysh and other Arabian tribes belonged to this branch of Abraham's line. Even those Arabian tribes which were not related to him by blood identified themselves with Abraham, since they had been influenced in varying degrees by his religious ideas. The other branch consisted of the Children of Isaac. In this branch there arose a great number of Prophets, for example Jacob, Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, John, and Jesus. Since Jacob was called Israel, his offspring came to be known as the Children of Israel. Other peoples who accepted their faith as a result of preaching either lost their former identity and became assimilated with them, or remained separate from them ethnically but identified with them religiously. At the time when decadence flourished this branch of the Abrahamic family gave birth first to Judaism, and subsequently to Christianity.
(3) The true mission of Abraham was to invite people to obey God and to mould the entire system of individual and collective life according to Divine Guidance. He was himself obedient to God and followed the teaching received from Him, and constantly strove to spread it and make all human beings live in obedience to it. It was because of this that he was appointed the religious leader and guide of the whole world. After his death, the task of guiding the world was entrusted to the branch which had issued from Isaac and Jacob, and which came to be known as the Children of Israel. It is in this branch that many Prophets were born. It was also this branch which was given the knowledge of the Straight Way, and was designated to lead all the nations of the world along that Way. It is of this favour that God again and again reminds these people.
In the time of Solomon this branch took Jerusalem as the centre of its mission. Jerusalem maintained its central position for all devotees of God and remained the qiblah (direction) in which all worshippers of God were required to turn in their Prayer.
(4) While addressing the Children of Israel in the last ten sections, God set forth the criminal record of the Jews, exposed their decadent state at the time of the revelation of the Qur'an, and made it clear to them that they had totally lacked gratitude to God for His favours and bounties. Not only had they ceased to guide the world, but had turned away from Truth and righteousness to such an extent that nearly all of them had lost the capacity to do good and to respond to Truth.
(5) It is also intimated that the religious leadership of all mankind is not an exclusive privilege of Abrahamic blood, but rather the fruit of Abraham's sincere obedience and service to God, to which he had wholly consecrated himself. Only those who follow the way of Abraham, and guide the world along that way, are therefore entitled to the position of guidance and leadership. And since the Jews had abandoned it and become incapable of carrying out the mission of Abraham they were being removed from that position.
(6) At the same time it is hinted that the non-Israelite peoples who identified themselves with Abraham through Moses and Jesus had also veered from the way of Abraham. The same was true of the polytheists of Arabia, who felt proud of belonging to Abraham and Ishmael and based this pride on lineage alone. For, so far as their faith and conduct were concerned, they had not even the remotest tie with Abraham and Ishmael. They did not deserve, therefore, to be entrusted with the religious leadership of the world.
(7) It is also made clear that by God's will a Prophet, for whose advent Abraham and Ishmael had once prayed, was born in the other branch of the Abrahamic family, i.e. the Ishmaelites. The way propounded by this Prophet is exactly the same as that by Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Jacob and in fact all the Messengers. His followers also confirm the truth of all those designated in the past to serve as God's Messengers, and call mankind to the same message those Messengers preached earlier. Thus, leadership now naturally devolves on those who follow this Prophet.
(8) This proclamation of a transfer of leadership naturally called for the proclamation of a change in the direction of Prayer. As long as the Israelites held the reins of the world's religious leadership, Jerusalem remained the centre of the mission of Islam and the qiblah of truth-loving people. The Arabian Prophet (peace be on him) as well as his followers had accepted Jerusalem as the qiblah until God duly proclaimed the removal of the Jews from their position of leadership. With this proclamation Jerusalem ceased to enjoy its central position. So it was proclaimed that from then on the centre of God's true religion would be the place from which the message of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) had radiated. Since in the past it had been the centre of the mission of Abraham (peace be on him), it was difficult even for the polytheists and for the People of the Book to deny that the Ka'bah had a greater right to be made the qiblah. There was thus every reasonable ground for the decision to change the qiblah and its opponents could only object out of irrational adamance.
(9) The proclamation that the followers of the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) had been designated to the religious leadership of mankind, and that the Ka'bah would now be the focal point of man's religious life, was followed by directives (beginning with( verse 153)and continuing to the end of the surah) addressed to the Muslims. These directives were aimed at enabling the Muslims to acquit themselves creditably of the duties laid upon their shoulders as the bearers of this mission.
124. At various places the Qur'an enumerates the severe tests through which Abraham passed. It was only after these had been completed successfully that he was able to establish his worthiness to serve as the religious guide and leader of all mankind. From the moment when the truth was revealed to him till the moment he died, his life was a continuous tale of sacrifice and suffering for his cause. There is no conceivable object of man's love and attachment in the world which Abraham did not sacrifice for the sake of the truth. Likewise, there is no conceivable danger which instinctively frightens man which Abraham did not encounter for the sake of the Truth.
125. This specifies that God's promise of the conferment of leadership applied only to those of Abraham's offspring who were righteous, and that the wrong-doers were naturally excluded. This also makes it clear that, just as the promise did not apply to the misguided Israelites, it did not apply to the polytheistic Ishmaelites.
126. 'Purify My House' does not merely mean keeping it clean of dirt and
filth. The real purity and cleanliness of the House of God rests in the fact
that in it the name of God alone should be glorified. If someone declares in
its sacred precincts that anything other than God is his Lord, his object of
worship and adoration, the dispenser of man's needs and requirements, the hearer
of man's supplications, then such a person is guilty of desecrating the House
This verse also contains a hint as to the evil-doing of the people of the Quraysh. They boasted that they were the inheritors of the legacy of Abraham and Ishmael, but instead of being faithful to that legacy, they actually trampled over it. So, just as the Children of Israel were excluded from the promise made to Abraham, so were the polytheistic children of Ishmael. (See also(n. 125 above - Ed.)
127. (Here a distinction is made between honouring a people by entrusting it with the religious leadership and guidance of the world, and bestowing on it an abundant means of livelihood - Ed.) When Abraham enquired who merited world leadership it was made clear to him that only his truly believing and righteous children, to the exclusion of the wrong-doing ones, were worthy of it. This occasioned God to clarify that the religious leadership of the world was quite distinct from its livelihood. Men of faith alone were entitled to the former, whereas both believers and unbelievers would be provided the latter. If someone enjoys abundant material wealth it should not be misconstrued to mean that God is necessarily pleased with him and that he has been designated by God to provide religious guidance to the world.
128. The term 'purification' used here embraces the purification of beliefs and outlook, morals, habits and customs, and social, cultural and political life; the purification of man's life in its totality.
129. This has been said in order to indicate that the advent of Muhammad (peace be on him) was in fact God's response to the prayer of Abraham (peace be on him).